Mariane Ibrahim announces Longing, the gallery's inaugural exhibition with Peter Uka. On view in Chicago from November 13, 2021 – January 15, 2022, the show marks the artist's first show with the gallery and in the United States.
Novelist Zadie Smith commented that “historical nostalgia” was a sentiment not “available” to black people: “I can’t go back to the fifties because life in the fifties for me is not pretty, nor is it pretty in 1320 or 1460 or 1580 or 1820 or even 1960 in this country, very frankly.”
The large-scale oil paintings exude notions of nostalgia, a gaze on spaces long forgotten. The works timeless ability arise from a query, how do we document a history that was unwritten, and only told orally? Of historical memories recounted and not crystallized.
Moments in time are captured, each representing a chamber of reflection, all solely painted from memory. Uka finds strength in referencing familiar scenes and moments in Nigeria, through an era specific and recognizable collective memory. These instants were engraved in his early recollections – poses of brothers arm in arm, the bright, surrounding colors and patterns – presenting his personal link to his life left behind when moving to Germany. His works form a tangible way to display mutuality in the experience worldwide, an affirmation of presence.
Throughout the 20th century, African Americans conceived various radical political paradigms to redefine their social positions and assert their humanity. Uka references these theories to show their commonplace, but also heightens relevant stylistic patterns and color to outline the beauty in their wistfulness. Uka moves beyond portraiture and examines fleeting gestures, where multiple figures appear in public spaces, away from their individualized interior environments.
The patterns and backgrounds inspired by 70s wallpapers embellish the new settings, a nod to his previous works which similarly draw upon elements of clothing, dance and posture. The 70’s, although still alive in the memory of many, may be too far gone to have any relevance on the outlook and identities of people today, however they function to deviate from the conversation surrounding art and history which remain largely centered on authenticity, oppression, and pain.
The stimulus of Uka’s practice comes from what he deems "the quantum leap", his necessary footstep into the unknown. These moments of nostalgia facilitate the continuity of identity, further persisting in his future work. The paintings showcase a nostalgia for life that is colorful and full of bliss. There continues to be space and yearning for joy, reflection, and redefinition.